Judge censured, steps down

  • SCOTT NORTH, JANICE PODSADA and WARREN CORNWALL / Herald Writers
  • Friday, October 6, 2000 9:00pm
  • Local NewsLocal news

By SCOTT NORTH, JANICE PODSADA and WARREN CORNWALL

Herald Writers

A south Snohomish County judge was censured Friday by a state judicial watchdog agency after he admitted mixing his personal life with his public duties.

Stephen L. Conroy resigned from his longtime job as a judge in the Edmonds and Lynnwood municipal courts after acknowledging his behavior had violated the state’s code of judicial conduct.

Among other things, Conroy, 52, of Edmonds, admitted dismissing, without legal reasons, a traffic citation for a "person with whom he had an intimate personal relationship," and to lying to state investigators, according to documents released Friday by the state Commission on Judicial Conduct.

He also acknowledged presiding over other legal matters where he should have stepped aside "because he had an intimate personal relationship" with somebody connected to the case or had previously acted as that person’s attorney.

Conroy in September had announced his resignation, saying he was stepping down, effective Friday, because of "personal reasons." The documents released Friday make clear his departure was negotiated as part of a settlement related to his censure. The action also spells out that Conroy cannot serve as a judge again unless he receives commission approval.

Conroy, who is married and has three children, had been a municipal judge handling traffic tickets, DUIs and other misdemeanor cases in Edmonds since 1986. He had served the same role in Lynnwood for a decade.

He referred all questions to his attorney, Stephen Hayne of Bellevue, who said he was only authorized to read a prepared statement, quoting Conroy as being "greatly saddened that his long and distinguished service on the bench is ending on this negative note."

Conroy was quoted as saying he "accepts full responsibility for his lapses in judgment and believes his resignation is appropriate."

The judicial commission did not release many details or any investigative reports related to Friday’s censure.

David Akana, the commission’s executive director, said that because of the settlement, commission records detailing specifics of Conroy’s misconduct will remain confidential.

He declined to clarify the former judge’s connection to the person or persons with whom he had an "intimate personal relationship," except to say "obviously, that’s not platonic."

Conroy’s resignation announcement last month raised many questions. "I must resign as city judge," said the letter he sent the mayors of Edmonds and Lynnwood. "Personal reasons causing a heavy burden in my life preclude me from being the public servant I am expected to be."

Documents obtained by The Herald earlier this week under state records laws show that at least part of the state judicial investigation involved a south county woman who claimed she had dated Conroy in the past.

The woman, a 40-year-old dance instructor, last month was arrested for investigation of drunken driving. At the time, she "expressed hesitancy about appearing in front of Judge Conroy because of a previous dating relationship and current administrative/judicial complaints she has filed against him," records show.

Edmonds Municipal Court records show that the woman in July 1998 had appeared before then-Judge Conroy on a speeding case.

Charges were dismissed.

A note in the case docket says records related to the ticket’s dismissal were obtained a year ago by an investigator for the state’s judicial watchdog agency.

Conroy refused to answer a reporter’s question about his alleged connection to the woman. The woman did not return phone calls.

The woman’s recent drunken driving case is being handled in an unusual manner because of the connections she has alleged with Conroy, records show.

When the woman was arraigned on the drunken driving charge in September, city prosecutors moved to dismiss the case in Edmonds Municipal Court and instead send it to county prosecutors for review, records show.

The move was made for an "appearance issue" and for the "process to be fair," the case docket indicates.

County prosecutors have received police reports about the alleged drunken driving stop, but they have not yet decided what to do with the case, said Jim Townsend, the county’s chief criminal deputy prosecutor.

Townsend said nobody has asked him to consider charges against the former judge.

Judges can be guilty of official misconduct, a gross misdemeanor, if they abuse their positions, Townsend said, but he added that charges would have to be filed within a year of the misconduct to avoid statutory limitations.

Conroy had a good reputation as a judge, Townsend said.

"He’s always been well respected," he said.

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